Are you single and constantly feeling the pressure of “not seeming good enough”? Then you may enjoy the following guest post by my friend and fellow blogger Malcolm Hong.
❤ : Ari
In an era where there are more single adults now than any time in history, there’s a surprisingly large amount of misperceptions and stereotypes about single adults that still persist. One of the most common myths about single adults is the general belief that because someone is single, there must be something wrong with that person. In this article, I’ll address how this perception is emphasized among single adult members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormon) and explain why this attitude is misplaced, inaccurate, and damaging.
There are few other religions in which marriage and family life are as highly prized as the LDS church. Consequently, the church is supportive of its single adults and wants them to reach their full potential. There are many church programs that are designed to help single adults make progress in their lives, which naturally includes finding a spouse and starting a family. These programs are to be commended, however, because of the heavy focus on marriage, it’s easy for unhealthy stereotypes of single adults to grow within the church culture.
For instance, I once had a friend tell me that when she was attending college, one of the church leaders in her congregation said over the pulpit, “If you’re still single when you graduate, ask someone you trust what’s wrong with you.” This tactless statement doesn’t represent church doctrine and certainly doesn’t represent the general attitude from church leaders to single adults. However, because it came from one of my friend’s local leaders, she took those words to heart and when she graduated from school as a singleton, she slipped into depression for a time.
Thankfully, her story has a happy ending: She stayed faithful in the gospel, married one of my best friends, and I was one of the groomsmen at her wedding. Nonetheless, her story is hardly an isolated experience. Through my role as a blogger and administrator of the Facebook Page LDS Single Friends, I’ve spoken with many other LDS single adults who have similar stories to tell about how single adults are perceived in the church culture.
I know far too many righteous single men and women who needlessly beat themselves up attempting to narrow down the reason they have yet to find their eternal companion. These are not the mythical stereotype of unemployed basement dwellers or crazy cat ladies. These are righteous, productive, temple-worthy single adults who contribute to both the church and society as a whole. Yet despite their accomplishments, their faith, and the good works they’ve demonstrated, they often feel “broken” or “defective” – for no other reason than their single status.
Why does this perception exist in the church?
To help put this issue into perspective, I’ve noticed that this perception is fueled by two main issues: 1) Something I call the “Mormon marriage narrative” and 2) The need for social validation in the Mormon culture.
1) The “Mormon marriage narrative.” Marriage and family life is highly prized in the LDS church. From an early age, members of the LDS church have their life planned out. The typical Mormon life plan usually involves graduating from seminary, college, a mission, with marriage usually happening in one’s early 20’s. Members of the church are taught that obedience and righteous living brings blessings that the Lord is eager to grant. Therefore, when a LDS young man or women stays single longer than what is considered to be culturally appropriate, there are many who assume that person must be doing something “wrong” to not receive the blessing of an eternal marriage. While this perception isn’t fair, it explains why some people find it easy to make unkind and inaccurate assumptions about the reasons why a man or women is still single.
2) The need for social validation in the Mormon culture. In a church that highly prizes marriage and family life, marriage is widely viewed as a mark of adulthood and a critical milestone in reaching exaltation. Consequently, when single Mormons are unsuccessful in making progress towards marriage, it’s understandable for them to develop feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. Additionally, in today’s social media age, single Mormons are constantly reminded of how they’re not meeting the expectations of their culture. In an era when singletons are often bombarded by engagement, wedding, or baby pictures from their peers on Facebook or Instagram, it’s easy to think something along the lines of, “Am I single because there really issomething wrong with me?”
As an LDS single adult, I can personally testify how damaging it is for people to feel or be treated like something’s wrong with them just for being single. No single adult should feel defective, broken, or a failure based on his or her relationship status. For many single adults, feeling like there’s something wrong with them cuts into their self-confidence and often creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.
It’s particularly heartbreaking when some singles incorrectly assume that their personal worth is dependent on their potential value as a future husband or wife. Through the core teachings of the gospel, we know that our personal worth is not dependent on a wedding ring; it is based on our divine heritage as sons and daughters of God. With this in mind, I’d like to share a few points that prove, using gospel principles, that being single doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you.
Heavenly Father doesn’t put a specific age on marriage or family life
President Gordon B. Hinckley once said, “Marry the right person, in the right place, at the right time.” He never gave counsel beyond this because the specific details might play out differently in each individual life. The right time could be 19 years old, 22 years old, 30 years old, or even in the next life. Personal agency and the agency of other people affect the timing of each individual. What’s more important than the specific age is making sure you’re living your life in a way that prepares you for eternal marriage at the right time.
The timing of receiving a blessing isn’t always dependent on your level of faith or personal worthiness
Some people mistakenly assume that if a blessing hasn’t come within a certain timeframe, it reflects poorly on their personal level of faith or righteousness. This is not the case. There are many people throughout the scriptures and modern-day church history who exercised faith, were living worthily, and doing everything right, yet had to wait for years to receive promised blessings. For example:
· Abraham and Sarah were promised many descendants who would bless all families of the earth with the Gospel. Despite this, they didn’t have their first son until Sarah was well into old age.
· The Prophet Alma and his wife pleaded with the Lord to soften the heart of their rebellious son. Their efforts took place for an undisclosed amount of time – it may have taken place over the course of many years. Alma was the leader of the Church and he still had to patiently wait for his own personal miracle.
· Joseph Smith, the Prophet of the Restoration, prayed ferventlyfor the Lord to deliver the suffering Latter-day Saints, but he was told that promised blessings to members of the church would come in the Lord’s timing.
The list goes on, but it’s clear that the Lord is aware of the desires of our heart and has His own timetable in helping us progress. If that divine timetable doesn’t align with the timing we hoped for, it shouldn’t be assumed that a blessing is being withheld because of a lack of faith or worthiness on our part.
Heavenly Father has a unique road map for the life of each individual
Elder John Carmack spoke to single adults in his address, To My Single Friends, explaining about how each single adult needs to prayerfully discover and follow their own road map through life. Regarding the challenges of finding the right spouse, Elder Carmack said, “Challenges in life do not usually come equipped with a set of neat and orderly answers…Your own inspiration and intuition, as parts of a prayerful, temple-centered, service-oriented life, are probably more helpful than the well-meaning advice, criticism, and solutions offered by some who try to help you toward your goal of temple marriage.”
Being single in a family-oriented religion isn’t easy and there are rarely simple solutions in the path towards eternal marriage. However, we can take comfort in the knowledge that God has a plan for each individual that’s as unique as his or her fingerprints. Because we have agency to act for ourselves, it’s our responsibility to seek personal revelation and receive confirmation that our life path is acceptable to God. If that path is different from the typical married-at-21 Mormon bride and groom, so be it. In the eyes of God, it’s far more important for our lives to be right with him, rather than right in the eyes of people who criticize us because our lives don’t fit a perceived mold.
It’s also noteworthy that there have been many righteous leaders in the church whose lives were different from the traditional Mormon narrative. For example, President Henry B. Eyring, the First Counselor in the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, wasn’t married until he was 29. By today’s Mormon standards, that would be considered a late marriage. In the early 1960’s, when the average marriage age was younger than it is today, being 29 and still single must have carried even more of a stigma. I had the opportunity to read his biography and I was fascinated by reading about his dating experiences and how he was prepared to meet his wife. Elder Eyring’s single adult experiences and courtship story may resonate with LDS single adults who feel that their life paths are different from most of their peers.
President Eyring made good choices in his early single adult years. He graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in Physics. The Korean War was taking place when President Eyring was completing his education and because of restrictions on the number of Mormon missionaries that could serve, he was not able to serve a full-time mission. The war ended when President Eyring graduated, but he was still unable to serve a mission because he had already been commissioned by the U.S. Air Force. Amazingly, the Lord still gave him an opportunity to have missionary experiences. The Air Force sent him to New Mexico and when he arrived, he was called as a district missionary and served for almost exactly two full years.
President Eyring completed a Master’s and PhD in Business Administration at Harvard Graduate School of Business. During his single adult years, President Eyring’s biography discusses his experiences of dating many young women, but ultimately, those relationships did not progress because he felt the lack of a deep emotional connection. This changed when he met his future wife, Kathleen Johnson. An article in the Ensign, Elder Henry B. Eyring: Molded by Defining Influences, describes President Eyring’s courtship story:
The decision to continue his studies at Harvard proved to be significant for another reason. It meant he was still in Boston during the summer of 1961, when Kathleen Johnson, daughter of J. Cyril and LaPrele Lindsay Johnson, of Palo Alto, California, came to Boston to attend summer school. Hal, who was serving as a counselor in the Boston district presidency at the time, was assigned to preside at a sunrise service for young adults.
After that sunrise service, he saw a young woman coming out of a grove of trees. Not only was he struck by her beauty, but at that moment the words of President David O. McKay came to his mind: “If you meet a girl in whose presence you feel a desire … to do your best, … such a young woman is worthy of your love” (Gospel Ideals, Salt Lake City: Improvement Era, 1953, p. 459). “That was exactly how I felt as I saw Kathleen for the first time,” says Elder Eyring.
Hal and Kathleen were introduced at church the following Sunday. “I knew Hal was someone special,” Kathy remembers. “He thought deeply about important things.”
The courtship continued throughout the rest of the summer and then by mail and phone after Kathleen returned to California. They were married in July 1962 in the Logan Temple by Elder Spencer W. Kimball.
After I learned about President Eyring’s story, I felt a newfound sense of respect and admiration for him. It isn’t easy being different or feeling out of place in the Mormon culture. Not only was President Eyring unable to serve a traditional mission, but he was also an older single adult in a time period when it was even more unusual to be almost 30 and still unmarried. Despite these challenges, he persevered and served faithfully in the church.
As President Eyring was being prepared to meet his wife, I’m sure that he had to endure unkind remarks and shallow judgments from others. Perhaps he was accused of being too selfish, too picky, or being too career-focused. From what I’ve read about President Eyring, I believe he was none of those things.
President Eyring wanted a companion and he was doing everything possible that would allow him to receive this blessing. He was serving faithfully in the church, completing his education that would allow him to provide for his future family, and was active in dating. I believe that President Eyring married at a later age because the Lord was still preparing President or Sister Eyring for each other.
Sister Eyring is an exceptional woman who faithfully supported her husband through decades of church service. If President Eyring had to relive his life again, I believe that he would have gladly waited to marry the right person, even if it meant dealing with stigmas and pressure to marry from the church culture. Clearly, the Lord had a plan for President Eyring that was different from the typical Mormon marriage narrative – and that’s okay.
President Eyring’s story demonstrates how God has a plan for all of us. Sometimes, His plan for our lives won’t match the timetable we’d prefer or the timetable that our church culture believes is socially acceptable. But if we know our desires and life is right with God, we shouldn’t allow others to label us or make us feel that something’s wrong with us.
Singles have a place in the church
There are many single adults in the LDS church who are not active and enjoying the full blessings of the gospel. Many of them have fallen away because they feel inadequate about their single status and believe they have no place in such a family-oriented religion. We need to avoid harmful stereotypes and reach out to singles with compassion and understanding because we need everyone, singles and married, to build the Kingdom of God.
God needs us to act as His hands here on earth. Instead of being consumed with anxiety about being single, we need to forget ourselves and get to work. The next time you feel discouraged about your single status, instead of asking, “What’s wrong with me?” ask questions like, “What can I learn from this situation? How can I grow into the person God wants me to become during this time in my life?”
God has a plan for all of us, singles included. Allowing others to label us will only harm our self-esteem and make it more difficult for us to achieve what God sent us here to do. Ultimately, it is more productive for singles to define ourselves as sons and daughters of God, rather than allowing others to define us based on our relationship status.
Malcolm “Ravenclaw” Hong is a blogger, a photographer, and a renaissance man. He graduated with his Bachelor’s Degree in English from BYU-Idaho and a Master’s Degree in Communication from Boise State University. He loves hosting game nights, doing photo shoots with his friends, and going on dates.